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Bioluminescence Is Cool

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"Squid skin is bioluminescent; evolved for camouflage, adapted for communication. Your average civilian calamari is a pack hunter. She uses her skin to talk to her gang. Data traffic. Very efficient. They can send different signals on different sides of their bodies, like a politician."
Testimony Before an Emergency Session of the Naval Cephalopod Command by Seth Dickinson

A Science Fiction trope: when writers think up alien lifeforms, there are several ways to make them cool, but nothing beats making them glow.

Truth in Television, as many terrestrial fungi and insects as well as a wide variety of marine species exhibit bioluminescence, including many octopi.

Supertrope to Glowing Flora and Lighting Bug. See also Power Glows, Fantastic Light Source and Alluring Anglerfish. Compare Tron Lines and Glowing Gem. Contrast Sickly Green Glow.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Doraemon: Nobita's Treasure Island have Doraemon producing a gadget called the Illumination Jellyfish Seeds, a futuristic artificial life-form which starts off as seeds but turns into hundreds and hundreds of tiny, jellyfish-like critters, useful for lighting a route for the heroes when they have to travel at night.
  • Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet gave us the whale-squids, although it is a bit uncertain if they actually are bioluminescent or merely fluorescent-when-lighted a la GFP below.
  • Kaiju Girl Caramelise: When Kuroe Akaishi transforms, partly or entirely, into Harugon, her horns and dorsal spikes glow red. This is specifically brought up when her spikes emerge while on a date with Arata at Destinyland, where Arata assumes that her "costume" has L.E.D. lights in it.
  • Squidgirl: Squidgirl has the ability to glow in the dark like a firefly squid. The first time she uses it is in a graveyard after she gets lost, causing her friends to mistake her for a ghost and run away.

    Fan Works 
  • Merfolk in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars fanfic By the Sea have bioluminescent markings all over their bodies that indicate emotion. Blue and purple, for instance, are used in courtship displays to communicate arousal or sexual interest.

    Films — Animation 
  • In BIONICLE: The Mask of Light, Takua gets distracted by some glowing coral-like structures. He immediately puts them on his head and starts hopping around like a fluorescent bunny rabbit.
  • Finding Nemo has an Alluring Anglerfish which in addition to being a terrifying predator looks very cool.
    • The sequel Finding Dory includes a bioluminescent squid in a similar vein.
  • The glowing fireflies in Grave of the Fireflies.
  • In How to Train Your Dragon 2, it is revealed that the dorsal area on the backs of Night Furies can light up in streaks of blue, possibly in a Shout-Out to Godzilla.
  • In Moana, both Tamatoa and the green algae in his lair.
  • In Sing, a restaurant has bioluminescent squid in the window. Buddy later hires them as special effect stage lights which is directly responsible for the theatre's destruction when the kludged-together tank gives out. They also appear in the closing titles.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Avatar: Most lifeforms on Pandora, including much of the vegetation, have bioluminescent cells. The Na'vi have them as markings that form lines, which according to the background serve as a means of identification. Most plants, along with small animals, have a lot of bioluminescence, with larger animals and trees having less, although everything seems to have at least some.
  • The aliens from The Abyss are almost entirely built of bioluminescence. The first few glimpses the audience gets of them are lights in the water that one character mistakes for the lights from another guy's diving suit.
  • Justified in Pitch Black due to the Bizarre Alien Biology of the light-sensitive monsters that eat everything else on the planet during every eclipse. The glow-worms end up saving the lives of the survivors.
  • Life of Pi: Apparently every body of water glows piercing blue at night. Justified as bioluminescent plankton and pelagic worms really are very common on the tropical Pacific.
  • The aliens in Attack the Block have neon turquoise teeth. And a fur so dark it always appears pitch black, thus the teeth are the only visible trait.
  • The Kaiju from Pacific Rim have glowing blood, alongside their glowing mouths, eyes, and markings.
  • Godzilla:
    • Godzilla (2014)
      • The Big G's dorsal plates traditionally light up before or as he uses his Atomic Breath.
      • The MUTOs are black with glowing red markings. Godzilla's dorsal plates begin to light up blue, just like they do in the TOHO films. The new film adds in the plates glowing blue from the tail up, à la Godzilla: The Series.
    • Godzilla: King of the Monsters
      • Mothra can emit beta-wave bioluminescence from her wings and use it as a weapon in the form of blinding 'god rays'.
  • Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, whose body glows a continuous blue.
  • In Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), when the team explores a dark chamber to retrieve the Orb from Ronan, Groot expels a cloud of bioluminescent seeds to light the darkness.
  • Creech from Monster Trucks displays this ability whenever he is seen swimming in water. His parents and the other members of his species display this ability as well.
  • In Apollo 13 Jim Lovell/Tom Hanks relates a time when his airplane lights went out and he had to follow the trail of luminescent algae leading back to his aircraft carrier.
  • What Lies Below contains a Subversion of this trope. John regurgitates some glowing blue object into the mouth of the dying creature that Michelle gave birth to. He does the same to Michelle and forces her to swallow it.

  • Isaac Asimov's "What Is This Thing Called Love?": The alien protagonists communicate using light, causing difficulty in understanding human biology, including speech (which one of them describes as "a sort of complicated coughing").
  • Wayne Barlowe seems to like this trope, given that he was a creature designer for Avatar and he wrote and illustrated Expedition, the book that Alien Planet was based on.
  • In Deception Point, the first clue that the meteorite find is fake is that the hole it's in, supposedly sealed for long ages, turns out to contain glowing (and hence fresh) organisms.
  • Discworld's Thud!: a mine run by super-conservative "deep down" dwarfs is primarily lit by vurms, bio-luminescent creatures that feed on carrion.
  • Kat Falls's "Dark Life": People who live on the bottom of the ocean for extended periods of time often develop a bioluminescent shine from eating certain species of fish.
  • Junction Point: When Liu steps into Rudak's dome, every surface is covered in plant-like life that glows in greens and blues. Whether it's just natural, or the result of bioengineering, has yet to be determined.
  • In Kraken, the Krakenists believe that after they die, they become bioluminescent cells on the body of the squid god.
  • Amy Thomson's The Color of Distance: The Tendu communicate through changing patterns on their skins. In the dark, their words glow.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Darwin IV: Several of the alien species from Alien Planet (adapted from Expedition).
  • Phil and Lem, the scientists on Better Off Ted hit a slump in their inventing skillsnote  and, in an attempt to get back in Ted's good graces, pitch in with Linda's rooftop garden project by gengineering bioluminscent flowers ("We call them fire flowers.") Subverted about a second later when a glowing squirrel (" squirrel.") runs past and is mentioned in the epilogue as having gone mad due to its constant glow.
  • During a brief period of unemployment, Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory mentions trying to engineer some bioluminescent goldfish (specifically to serve as an energy efficient pet/nightlight). It doesn't really come up again after a throw-away gag at the end of the episode, but he was successful in creating at least one.
  • One of the challenges on Face/Off required contestants to design creatures to be displayed under black light as well as visible, meaning the artists had to paint with colors they couldn't even see.
  • The Most Extreme had the episode "Night Lights", which was all about finding the most extreme bioluminscent creature. The female angler fish won
  • In the Tracker pilot, Mel catches a glimpse of Cole glowing, something connected to his Cirronian nature and whatever he was doing in the bedroom at the time. (not *that*!)

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Usually in any dungeon crawl situation, there are caves that have bioluminescent moss or lichen growing on the walls/floors.
    • The giant fire beetle, a predatory insect with two red-glowing glands in its back, has been a stock low-level monster in D&D since the 1e and Basic systems.
  • In Crimestrikers, Nyx Marama is a white-furred bat person who can make her body (or part of it) glow in the dark for up to an hour at a time. She's also learned to use this power to create an attack called the Thunderflash, "a momentary blinding glow accompanied by an intense ultra-sonic noise, that can startle, stun and confuse an enemy."

    Theme Parks 

    Video Games 
  • CreaVures: The Forest, and the creatures who live there. Interestingly, the bioluminescence on the eponymous CreaVures also serves as a representation of your health (with it fading for a while if you're hit), and sometimes as an indication as to whether an aggressive animal is cowering or not (with theirs fading for a bit).
  • Alice: Madness Returns: Everything in the Deluded Depths. Even Alice's dress has an angler and glowing dots and stripes.
  • Fallout: New Vegas: Glowing Fungus in multiple colours. Some are edible.
  • Subnautica:
    • Everything on underwater planet 4546B glows. The fish glow, the plants glow, the coral glows, the seaweed glows, the giant translucent jelly mushrooms in that one cave glow. Which is extremely helpful, because it is really difficult to see where you are going at night without a flashlight. In a paranoia-inducing turn of events, the few things that don't glow include two relentless predators, one of which is also a gigantic oceanic monstrosity, so it's perfectly possible for them to sneak up on you at night.
    • Subnautica: Below Zero continues this trend. Of note, the above-ground ice caves will sometimes have glowing speckles in their interior, creating beautiful glittery effects in the dark.
  • Terraria:
    • In mushroom biomes, the grass and various mushrooms glow almost as brightly as torches. Surface-level mushroom biomes are dark even during the day so they too glow.
    • Additionally, every kind of herb will glow when blooming, though some more so than others.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • In different instances in the series, some Spriggan (a hostile tree-like Plant People race) variants give off bioluminescencent green, purple, or orange lights.
    • In Skyrim, Blackreach is a huge underground area full of enemies, ruins, giant glowing mushrooms and crimson nirnroots (which are like regular nirnroots, but are red instead of green). Especially the Dawnguard add-on is fond of this. Both the fauna and flora of forgotten Valley of ancient Falmer love this trope. Caverns are lit by glowing flowers that retract themselves to their shells and animals have glowing blue stripes on them. Similarities with Avatar definitely coincidental.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword has Demise's hair.
  • In Metroid Prime, bioluminescence is (usually) a sign that phazon has mutated the flora or fauna. Deep in the phazon Mines, there are massive glowing mushrooms large enough to serve as platforms and one of your only light sources in those areas.
  • The Sylvari race in Guild Wars 2 are bioluminescent, intelligent plant beings. Did we mention that they're a playable race?
  • In Civilization: Beyond Earth, any late-game Harmony colony will develop technology with lots of glowing blue lines on them. This is also true for the Harmony colony's leader, as they presumably genetically modify themselves.
  • Metal Gear Solid 3 has the glowcap mushrooms that will recharge Snake's batteries when he eats them. Yeah, it doesn't make much sense in universe either. Para Medic justifies it as likely being a placebo effect. That doesn't explain them functioning as an Improvised Lightning Rod against Volgin's lightning bolts, though.
  • The monsters of Evolve glow brighter the higher their armor. They come in variety of colors, with Goliath being red, Kraken blue, Wraith a white-ish pink, Behemoth orange, and Gorgon a pale green. For non-monster examples, the blitzleopard and mammoth bird wildlife have this as well.
  • In Battleborn, the green skinned fish Warrior Monk Alani is capable of glowing her eyes and the tattoos on her body in a manner to certain bioluminescent deep sea fish.
  • Starbound: Bioluminescence biomes are full of glowing plants, glowing rocks, glowing critters, and glowing chests that may contain blueprints for glowing furniture. Slime biomes are full of glowing slime pods. Florans like to illuminate their homes with glowing plants that give off a muted green light (because they have a profound fear of fire, being plant beings). The ocean floors are lit with "oshrooms", or ocean mushrooms.
  • Pokémon has a number of examples, some of which combine this trope with Power Glows.
  • Splatoon: She may not demonstrate it much, but Marie is a firefly squid and can presumably glow while in squid form. Jelonzo has been mistaken for a glowing blue ghost before, and the Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion features CQ Cumber, a bioluminescent sea cucumber, and several flashlight fish who serve as background characters.
  • Vine Realms has the mascot Vineshroom and Darkshroom (a "dark-mode" recolor) as glowing scenery, as well as giant glowing mushrooms in the Psychedelic Swamp.
  • flOw: As said on the official site:
    Evolution Awaits
    Welcome to the hypnotic, deep blue abyss where bioluminescent creatures swim above and below you as you explore, evolve and survive.
  • Deep Rock Galactic: With nearly all of the game being set entirely underground, many of the living creatures both hostile and otherwise glow. In every biome the Macteras and Glyphid Praetorians helpfully present their glowing abdomens while trying to kill you, and some biomes like the Dense Biozone and Azure Weald are especially rife with bioluminiscence.

  • In Homestuck, when Kanaya becomes a rainbow drinker, she begins to glow. Her dancestor, Porrim, also bioluminesces, though she is better able to control it.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • The protein Luciferase and its relatives are the cause of natural bioluminescence, for example in fireflies. It has been put into other creatures to create glowing bacteria, etc.
  • A more famous but unrelated protein is GFP (abbreviation for "Green Fluorescent Protein"). Its derivatives have been established as common tools for scientific research. It's not true bioluminescence: the protein is merely fluorescent, so it only glows under a light source. GloFish, zebra danios genetically engineered to produce this and similar proteins, are marketed as aquarium fish by invoking this trope in real life.
  • Ravers and Cybergoths have a liking for glowsticks and clothes that imitate bioluminiscence. While it's definitely running off the Rule of Cool, there's also a functional reason behind it: Supposedly, the glow from these sources have a soothing effect on the mind, reducing the chances for a Bad Trip. Considering that these subcultures have a particular leaning towards psychedelic substances ...
    • There's also the practical side, in that a dark club is, well, dark, which can make it difficult to see people in general and especially difficult to identify their faces. The faint glow of a glowstick may or may not be enough to illuminate facial features, but if you can remember the combination of colors and kinds of glowing clothing your friends are wearing, you may not need to see them. And if nothing else, it's easier to avoid accidentally slamming into another person if they're glowing.
  • True to the Life of Pi example, there are bioluminescent plankton that inhabit some waters, and glow when agitated or touched. A real time example can be seen here.